When Life Spins Out of Control

In 2007, my husband John and his parents traveled to China, to bring our adopted daughter home. May 14th was "Gotcha Day"—the day when John finally met our eighteen month old daughter Anna, and she officially became a member of our family. I had a beautiful picture of Gotcha Day painted in my head. It involved rainbows, sunshine, a deliriously happy child, and angels singing the Hallelujiah Chorus. Alas, John's description of Gotcha Day didn't match my lofty expectations. Here's how he described it:

"Eleven sets of adoptive parents were marched into a conference room. Our children were handed over to us simultaneously, and then all hell broke loose. Many of the kids started freaking out, because we were complete strangers to them. The sound of children crying was deafening! When Anna was placed in my arms (picture at left), she began twisting and flipping around like a fish out of water, shrieking as she desperately lunged for a woman who ended up being her foster mother. Then she wet herself, threw up, and began crying hysterically. For the next several days, she cried quite a bit,
and she kept running to 
the hotel door and screaming for her foster mother: 'Ma-mai! Ma-mai!' (picture at right). Every time we went out in public, you could see her eyes scanning up and down the street, because she was searching for her foster mother. It was very sad. I don't think I'll ever forget it." 

Anna was too young to understand that the world she so desperately clung to offered bleak prospects for her future, due to her status as a female orphan. She also had no way of knowing that John had the best of intentions toward her, and was actually taking her away to a far better life—a life filled with love, a huge extended family, political and religious freedom, expanded education and career opportunities, and new status as a beloved daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece, and cousin. Instead, from Anna's limited perspective, life had spun out of control in a terrifying way. According to John:

"All she knew was that a huge bearded stranger walked into the room and took her away from everything and everyone she knew. And she wasn't happy about any of it."

Anna after a few days with
John and his parents. 
I'm a lot like my daughter. Many years ago, I gave a stranger (God) permission to enter my life, and he arrived with nothing but the best of intentions toward me. In fact, he had a better life planned for me than I could possibly imagine. But just as Anna threw fits when John steered her toward a new, better life, I tend to behave in the exact same way toward God. Here's why: my version of a better life often doesn't match God's version of a better life

My version of a better life involves staying in my comfort zone, and doing everything I can to make it more comfortable. This includes accumulating possessions that increase my physical comfort, and clinging to familiar people, places, situations, and activities that increase my emotional comfort, even if they're not good for me in the long run. 

God's version of a better life is far different. It involves helping me develop emotional and spiritual wholeness, as well as an understanding of who God created me to be, which points toward what he created me to do with my life. Growing in these ways is beneficial for my well-being and my relationships in the long run, and it also helps me minister to others out of right motivations. However, I'm generally not very motivated to seek deep emotional, spiritual, or vocational growth when I'm comfortable. As a result, God often needs to pull me out of my comfort zone, in order to stimulate this growth.

1996, just before I quit my full-time job
For example, fifteen years ago, God made it very clear that he wanted me to be a stay-at-home mom. It's too long a story to get into, so you'll just have to trust that I knew I was supposed to make this change in my life. But leaving my comfortable job, my affirming co-workers, my job title, and my salary caused a great deal of emotional pain that left me kicking, screaming, and depressed.

However, many years down the road, I discovered that God did have my long-term good in mind. In addition to fostering the development of deep relationships with my children, having no career also prompted me to ask a very hard question: "Who am I, really, without a career?" I was unable to answer this question, because at the time, my entire sense of identity was unhealthily wrapped up in my job title, my salary, my achievements, and what other people said about me. Without these things, I felt worthless, with no redeeming value as a human being. Sad, but true.

Amid the crucible of early parenthood, God put wonderful people and resources into my life. They helped me understand that my value as a human being has nothing to do with my job title, salary, possessions, appearance, achievements, or others' opinions of me. Instead, my value lies solely in my status as a beloved daughter of God. During this time period, I also identified my God-given skills and giftings, and I gained an understanding of what God created me to do with my life. These were wonderful, lifelong gifts that freed me up to simply be who God created me to be, rather than constantly striving to be who everyone else wants me to be. I'm actually amused at the irony in this—the fact that God put me through so much discomfort, to help me learn to be comfortable in my own skin, content with who he created me to be. This is God's version of the better life!

I'm glad I learned this lesson, because let's face it, life is messy and there are so many opportunities to remember and apply it! For example, my family has gone through some incredibly difficult times in the past several years. During the worst of those times, I've lapsed into fits of anger and sadness as I've wistfully recalled my former comfort zone. I've also ranted at God, demanding to know why he can't just get on the planmy master plan—so my life can finally be comfortable and problem free?

In those moments, the pictures from Gotcha Day often pop into my head. And I'm reminded that just as John hugged Anna tightly in China and reassured her that everything would be okay, God does the same for me. 

He reaches down from heaven and reminds me that no matter how hopeless or impossible the short-term picture might look, the long-term picture is different and somehow related to his version of a better life. He reminds me of his faithfulness in the past and provides renewed encouragement that he is for me, not against me, and has my best intentions in mind. Just as he did with Anna.

Family, freedom, and opportunity—
God's better life for Anna!
Anna is in the pink shirt, sitting on John's lap.



Photo courtesy of J.L. Watkins



  1. What a great picture! I have to say that the phrase, "Gotcha Day!" is perfect for those times when God reveals that He, not us are in control. It is a "Gotcha! Your life is going to totally change" AND "Gotcha! I will never let anything or anyone snatch you out of my hand." all in one.

  2. I love this post! Well written, spiritually insightful and encouraging! Thank you!

  3. Great application!
    Cling to those verses. They are some of my favorite, too.
    God has good things in store for your family and to do through you and your family.
    Blessings & love,

  4. Beautiful family photo, Marlene. And your post is a beautiful picture of that irony of God's comfort trade-offs. Between the old comfort and the new comfort, however, stands a time of ambiguity. Your determination to cling to God during this time is courageous. Bless you, my friend.

  5. A lovely family, Marlene! It was so good to meet you at FFW. I didn't realize your family was formed partly through adoption...love hearing these real, beautiful adoption stories.

  6. You are an inspirational writer, Marlene, and I look forward to reading more from you. I'm also a homeschooling mom, and there are days when I want to send my girls to school for friendships reason. Your socialization article brings me back to the realities that the friendships they will make in school are probably not one I want them to foster. It is not impossible, but I think it will be hard for them to find friends who value them for being an individual and a child of God.

    I'm looking forward to read lots more from your blog!


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